ViacomCBS cutting up to 400 positions amid coronavirus pandemic

Stephen Battaglio
CBS headquarters in midtown Manhattan.  (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)

CBS is making significant personnel cuts across all of its divisions as it faces financial pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing consolidation with parent company ViacomCBS.

Between 300 and 400 employees at ViacomCBS will be affected by the cuts, according to people familiar with the plans who were not authorized to discuss them publicly and requested anonymity.

While the reductions, which take effect immediately, are companywide, the bulk of them are at CBS' divisions, including entertainment, news, sports, its production studio and its TV stations.

People were still being informed of their status as of Wednesday afternoon. Some of the reductions go as high as the executive vice president level and are mostly concentrated in Los Angeles and New York, but also include other cities such as Chicago, where around a dozen people were cut from TV station WBBM.

All media companies have been hard hit by the economic shutdown in place throughout the country to control the spread of the coronavirus. Salary cuts, furloughs and layoffs have swept through the industry as advertisers have made major reductions in spending.

At the same time, Viacom and CBS are still undergoing reorganization following their merger that closed in December.

The cuts are the second round of job reductions at ViacomCBS, which recently let go of more than 100 employees mostly from the cable side of the media conglomerate, including top executives at Comedy Central and the Smithsonian Channel.

“We are restructuring various operations at CBS as part our ongoing integration with Viacom, and to adapt to changes in our business, including those related to COVID-19,” said a CBS representative in a statement. “Our thoughts today are with our departing colleagues for their friendship, service and many important contributions to CBS.”

ViacomCBS executives have been told internally that some of the innovations developed during the economic shutdown, such as working remotely, are being adopted permanently to reduce costs.

The reduction at CBS News is said to be around 5% of the division's 1,400 full-time employees. Contributors who are not full time are included in the layoffs, as are several on-air correspondents.

"Working with reduced budgets, we have had to make some extremely difficult decisions," CBS News President Susan Zirinsky said in a memo to employees. "I’m sad to report today that some of our colleagues and good friends will be leaving the company. These decisions are particularly painful for our entire organization, which has performed at the highest level during the COVID-19 pandemic, overcoming so many obstacles. But this restructuring is necessary to ensure CBS News remains strong long into the future."